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   Obituary - Gus Ashdown


Augustus (Gus) James Ashdown

House: Junior/Rhodes
Years: 1968-1971

Webmaster received an e-mail from Andrew Ashdown:

I would appreciate if you could publish an obituary for my late twin Brother Gus Ashdown (Junior House 1968 and Rhodes House 1969-71):

Gus Ashdown 1955-2008

Gus was a popular and memorable character during his four years at Nairobi School. He and his twin brother Andrew were a familiar sight about the place, the blonde pair, ‘AJ’ and ‘AS’, more or less inseparable.

They has come out to Africa in 1963, with their father Bob, on the rebound from a divorce. They lived first in SW Tanganyika, on a UMCA mission station, then in Dar-es-Salaam. They went to Arusha School before fetching up at Junior House.

Gus was always the more outgoing, dominant of the pair. Excellent and keen at sport he played rugby (Junior Colts) and was in the House Swimming and Cross Country teams. His artistic ability was always to the fore and his work for Mr Harrington often on display in the Art Room. He had a lifelong penchant for exploration which was reflected in his keen application to Geography under Bill Minns.

Gus and Andrew went on to sixth form in the UK, at Lancing College, before finally going their separate ways – Andrew to Manchester and Gus, Birmingham. Having graduated with a BSc in Geography, Gus then tried his hand at teaching, qualifying with a PGCE from St Margaret’s in Strawberry Hill, Twickenham. A brief stint at St. Edmunds, Canterbury (dubbed ‘St. Cakes’ after the fabled Private Eye establishment) was abandoned when wanderlust took over and he began his epoch-making journey round the world. Well, it only got as far as India but by then he had travelled alone across Afghanistan (a 72 hour bus ride), seen Everest and Kanchenjunga, nursed a sore foot on a houseboat in Kashmir and sketched the Taj Mahal. Gazing at the sunrise off Madras at Christmas he decided it was time to come home.

He returned a changed man; just how much, we could not have known. A new path beckoned. He switched career to Town Planning, which took him, oddly enough, to Andrew’s alma mater, Manchester (Andrew had meanwhile gone to work in Birmingham!). It was bad timing, as jobs were scarce and in the event he had to offer himself as a volunteer, with VSO – working on the capital building project in – of all places, Dodoma. Yes, Tanzania – back to his old roots.

Things went well (despite the difficult conditions) and he was soon established in his accustomed role – a gregarious, cheerful and popular character among both the expatriate and local African communities, in this remote place in the dustbowl interior of Tanzania. With a friend from teaching days, Martin Tate, he conquered Kilimanjaro and forever after kept the certificate as his proudest possession.

From here he was able to springboard into a ‘proper’ job – with the UN - in the glamorous surroundings of St. Lucia. As if by providence, his twin brother had meanwhile moved East - to Indonesia, the East Indies. By a similar twist of symmetry, both married girls from their respective countries.

With a splendid apartment and his own car, Gus again resumed his familiar role, now as the ‘King of the Island’. It has to be said that he always liked to be on top of things, the King Pin, as it were. A colleague at Manchester had written up on the blackboard “Gus is Ace”. No-one could dispute it – or dared! Yet he was oddly free of personal ambition and material success. His real desire was to ensure things were done properly and to receive the affection and loyalty of those around him. In this pursuit he often crossed people, as he was quick to find fault in those he saw as in any way bounders or ne’er do wells. Conversely, his loyalty and affection to those close to him was extraordinary and the few friends he managed to keep were close indeed.

In the place where Nelson had succeeded, the West Indies was to prove his downfall: Trafalgar – but on Napoleon’s side. Under pressure from the difficulties of operating in the situation he found, he succumbed to an illness which had been creeping up on him, we now think for some time. What had been peculiar character traits acquired an increasingly bizarre aspect. Finally, he fell hostage to nightmarish visions and irrational fears. He left Montserrat in a state of complete breakdown.

The further tragedy was that he now had to abandon the love of his life, his wife Patricia, to begin a ten year battle, fighting the worst of all mental illnesses. Living with his father back in Milton Keynes, he built up a coterie of close friends again and was a kind and generous ‘Uncle Gus’ to Andrew’s children (Andrew having also returned from abroad, following the script).

Finally, in October 2008, he saw no way forward and made a desperate yet characteristically courageous decision which left his family and loved ones traumatised but for which he cannot and never will be blamed.

We all miss him dreadfully and there is a terrible sense of frustration and disappointment, the feeling of a wasted life, lost opportunities and overwhelming sadness at his untimely passing. We all miss him.

Andrew Ashdown
(Rhodes 1968-1971)